Why I opposed the president and the GOP tax compromise
- Category: Commentaries
- Published on Tuesday, 29 November -0001 18:00
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
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Rep. Steve Cohen
Special to the Tri-State Defender
I read the Op-Ed authored by Mr. D.C. Berry Jr. in the Tri-State Defender on December 30 and wanted to respond.
Our seniors, the middle class and the unemployed have been the most adversely affected by America’s recent economic downturn. These courageous people are not merely numbers or statistics. They are our grandparents, parents, siblings, faith-leaders, neighbors and friends. They have dreams and aspirations like all Americans. I have not forgotten about them, and I never will. As I fight for Memphis, I fight for them.
With every vote I cast, I do what I believe is best for my constituents in the 9th District. Working to ensure that unemployed Memphians and unemployed Americans receive their unemployment benefits is a top priority for me. Giving middle-class families the tax relief they need is also important. That is why I have consistently supported legislation that provides unemployment benefits and middle class tax cuts.
Since June 2008, I have voted to extend unemployment benefits more than 10 times. I have also worked to expand these benefits an additional $25 a week, and I cosponsored the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2010, which would add an additional tier of benefits. In May 2009, I also urged Gov. Phil Bredesen to extend Tennessee’s unemployment benefits, which were provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – legislation I was proud to support. I also supported the Jobs for Main Street Act, which extended unemployment benefits through June of 2010. And I authored the Jobs for Urban Sustainability Act, which would provide grants to cities with high unemployment rates for job training, public works, and economic development programs. Unemployment benefits are vital to the millions of unemployed Americans who need help putting food on their tables and keeping lights on in their homes, and I will continue to fight to ensure that they get the assistance they need.
While I appreciate President Obama’s work to create a compromise package that extended unemployment benefits and middle class tax cuts, I could not support giving tax cuts to America’s millionaires and billionaires or threaten the long-term solvency of Social Security. By forcing Congressional Democrats to vote for tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans, I believe we helped Republicans undermine our Party’s core belief of helping those who need it most.
Just as Republicans are fighting to undermine former President Lyndon Johnson’s historic creation of Medicare, the tax package will assist them in unraveling the fabric of Social Security – former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s enduring legacy. The tax compromise includes a reduction in employees’ Social Security contributions from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. While this will provide about $120 billion in tax relief next year, economic experts have said that this will threaten the long-term solvency of Social Security. Politically speaking, it will be difficult to bring the level back to 6.2 percent and failure to do so will further threaten Social Security.
Every day I am reminded of the inherent inequality that exists in our country. So many people across the country are impoverished and are in great need of federal support. I vowed many years ago to defend the less fortunate and believe that America’s wealthiest should help provide additional relief to those in need.
America’s wealthiest are not struggling – they are rewarded with sizable corporate bonuses and will receive another big check with the extension of the Bush era tax cuts. Highly respected economists have also noted that the $5 million estate tax exemption in the tax compromise will benefit only 6,600 families at a cost of more than $25 billion over two years. I think it is unfortunate that we had to further line the pockets of the wealthy in order to assist those who are in great need – the unemployed. Doing so runs counter to every moral and religious belief we ascribe to. Neither the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nor the Dalai Lama would approve of this, and neither do I.
The vote on the GOP tax compromise in December was one of the most difficult votes I have ever cast, but I know it was the right decision. Two dear friends with a long history of fighting for fairness, justice and equality, Congressmen John Conyers and John Lewis, joined me in casting the same vote – as did two thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus and nearly three-quarters of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
I have consistently stood with my friend President Barack Obama over the past two years to enact sweeping health care reform, historic financial reform, legislation to end subsidies to the student loan industry, ensure equal pay for women, and countless other important reforms. But I could not vote to extend tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who do not need them, that won’t sufficiently stimulate the economy, and threatens the viability of Social Security. While I did not support the GOP tax compromise, I look forward to continuing to work with President Obama on future legislation to create jobs, jumpstart the economy, and encourage businesses to manufacture in America.
(Rep. Steve Cohen represents the Ninth Congressional District. Memphis Office contact: 901-544-4131, fax – 901-544-4329; Washington, D.C. Office contact: 202-225-3265, fax – 202-225-5663. For email contact, visit: http://cohen.house.gov/index.php?option=com_email_form&Itemid=111)